Black History Month is an annual commemoration of the central role of African Americans in US history and a chance to reflect on the community’s continued struggle for racial justice. It’s a time to take a moment to look back and celebrate the legacy and contributions of Black people in America. During this month, we recognize Black leaders, innovators and people who have brought about change and thus have helped pave the way for our leaders today. It honours all Black people from all periods of U.S. history, from the enslaved people first brought over from Africa in the early seventeeth century to African Americans living in the United States today.

By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity, “Negro History Week” was celebrated by mayors in cities across the country. Eventually, the event evolved into Black History Month. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History month. In a speech, President Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history.”

 Since that administration, every American president has recognized Black History Month and its mission. 

In its early days, Black History Month was a way of teaching students and young people about Black and African Americans’ contributions. Such stories had been largely neglected as a part of the national narrative. Now, the month is also seen as a celebration of those who’ve impacted not only the United States, but the world with their activism and achievements. In the US, the month-long spotlight during February is an opportunity for people to engage with Black histories, go beyond discussions of racism and slavery, and highlight Black leaders and accomplishments.

Among the notable figures often spotlighted during Black History Month are Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought for equal rights for Black people during the 1950s and ’60s; Thurgood Marshall, the first African American justice appointed to the United States Supreme Court in 1967; Mae Jemison, who became the first female African American astronaut to travel to space in 1992; and Barack Obama, who was elected the first-ever African American president of the United States in 2008.

To celebrate Black History Month, we have gathered a list of great children’s books that will teach children and young teens about the lives of Black people in America and around the world. These stories share the experiences of courageous Black people like Benjamin Holmes, Fanny Lou Hamer, John Roy Lynch, Nelson Mandela, and more.

1.  The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

A unique biography of a remarkable Reconstruction figure

by Chris Barton and Don Tate

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch children book for kids

John Roy Lynch spent most of his childhood as a slave in Mississippi, but all of that changed with the Emancipation Proclamation. Suddenly people like John Roy could have paying jobs and attend school. While many people in the South were unhappy with the social change, John Roy thrived in the new era. He was appointed to serve as justice of the peace and was eventually elected to the United States Congress.This biography, with its informative backmatter and splendid illustrations, gives readers an in-depth look at the Reconstruction period through the life of one of the first African-American congressmen.

2. Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation

A powerful testimony to the power of the written word to bring hope in desperate circumstances

by Pat Sherman and Floyd Cooper

Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation

Ben, a young slave, uses every chance he gets to teach himself to read, practicing with the words he sees on street signs and in shop windows and even in cast-off newspapers he finds in the gutter.

But after the Civil War breaks out, his master leaves town and Ben finds himself in a slave prison. One night, the prisoners bribe a guard to get their hands on a newspaper, and to the applause of his fellow slaves, Ben reads aloud the momentous news of Mr. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — surely one of the most remarkable readings of that document ever.

Based on the true story of Benjamin Holmes, Pat Sherman’s stirring text and the memorable illustrations of Coretta Scott King medalist Floyd Cooper pay tribute to the power of freedom — and to the power of the written word.

3. The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights

A story of the African-American journey from slavery to civil rights

by Carole Boston Weatherford and Tim Ladwig

The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights

In this book the Beatitudes—from Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount—form the backdrop for Carole Boston Weatherford’s powerful free-verse poem that traces the African American journey from slavery to civil rights.

Tim Ladwig’s stirring illustrations showcase a panorama of heroes in this struggle, from the slaves shackled in the hold of a ship to the first African American president taking his oath of office on the steps of the United States Capitol.

Readers of all ages will find this a book to return to again and again for encouragement and inspiration.

4. I Lay My Stitches Down

Embrace the dream of diversity

by Cynthia Grady and Michele Wood

I Lay My Stitches Down

This rich and intricate collection of poems chronicles the various experiences of American slaves. Drawn together through imagery drawn from quilting and fiber arts, each poem is spoken from a different perspective: a house slave, a mother losing her daughter to the auction block, a blacksmith, a slave fleeing on the Underground Railroad.

This moving and eloquent set of poems, brought to life by vivid and colorful artwork from Michele Wood, offers a timeless witness to the hardship endured by America’s slaves. Each poem is supplemented by a historical note.

5. The Watcher

A poetic story inspired by Psalm 121

by Nikki Grimes and Bryan Collier

The Watcher

Jordan lives in fear of Tanya, the class bully. But Tanya has worries of her own, no matter how much she tries to ignore them. It seems impossible that Jordan and Tanya could be anything other than enemies, but the Lord is watching over them, guiding each of them along a path that might just help them to understand one another.

Nikki Grimes takes the words of a Psalm 121 and masterfully transforms them into a golden shovel poem of compassion, friendship, and faith. Coupled with powerful artwork from Bryan Collier, this heartfelt story is one that readers will treasure.

6. Psalm Twenty-Three

An ancient psalm brings comfort in the modern world

illustrated by Tim Ladwig

Psalm Twenty-Three

Through poignant, heart-warming images of an urban African-American family, children experience the comfort and encouragement this favorite psalm still offers—the powerful message that they can rely on the Lord as they thread their way through the risk-filled maze of daily life in the city.

7. When Daddy Prays

by Nikki Grimes and Tim Ladwig

When Daddy Prays

When Daddy prays
my fear of darkness disappears
and angels tiptoe down the hall.
I hear them through the door and wall . . . when Daddy prays.

In this collection of poems by Nikki Grimes, a child learns about prayer from his father, whose prayers carry the family through each day—no matter what the circumstances.

Nikki Grimes believes that spirituality and prayer are signs of true strength and power. When Daddy Prays celebrates fathers who help their children see this. Grimes writes, “In my view there is no more powerful image than that of a strong man bowing before God.”

Illustrator Tim Ladwig has created remarkable images, rich with tenderness and touches of affectionate humor, to enhance and complete this exceptional book.

8. The Lord’s Prayer

Illustrated by Tim Ladwig

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in Heaven,
Hallowed be your name . . .

The beloved words of The Lord’s Prayer serve as the text for this remarkable book, in which Tim Ladwig illustrates how the words of this ancient prayer can have real meaning in our lives today.

In Tim’s paintings, a young girl and her father spend a day together helping an elderly neighbor. The love and guidance the child experiences in her relationship with her dad reflect the heart and will of our Heavenly Father in concrete ways children of all ages will understand.

Washington Post Book World
“Ladwig proves that a deftly executed illustration drives a point home as effectively as words—even when the words are as eloquent as those in the Lord’s Prayer.”

The Bloomsbury Review
“With no exposition or dialogue Tim Ladwig weaves ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ into a touching story about a young girl and her father spending the day together. They help an elderly woman repair her home and together find the true meaning of giving and love. The most amazing thing about The Lord’s Prayer is that the story is told through illustrations alone. And these are some of the most beautiful illustrations I’ve ever seen. This book is an excellent addition to any child’s bookshelf.”

9. Mississippi Morning

A thought-provoking story of one boy’s loss of naiveté and encounter with harsh reality

by Ruth Vander Zee and Floyd Cooper

Mississippi Morning

It’s the middle of the Great Depression, but James William still enjoys his life in rural Mississippi. But his happiness starts to unravel when he discovers the fire that burned down the local preacher’s house wasn’t an accident, but a hate crime. When his friend LeRoy tells him about the Klan and their hanging tree, James William has a hard time grasping this harsh reality, until an unexpected encounter brings the issue close to home.

A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation

Written by Lindsey McDivitt
Illustrated by Charly PalmerAges 7 and Up

As Nelson Mandela lived and worked under the unjust system of apartheid, his desire for freedom grew.  South Africa separated people by races, oppressing the country’s non-white citizens with abusive laws and cruel restrictions. Every day filled Mandela with grief and anger. But he also had hope—hope for a nation that belonged to everyone who lived in it.

From his work with the African National Congress, to his imprisonment on Robben Island, to his extraordinary rise to the presidency, Nelson Mandela was a rallying force against injustice. This stirring biography explores Mandela’s long fight for equality and the courage that propelled him through decades of struggle. Illustrated in the bold, bright colors of South Africa, A Plan for the People captures the spirit of a leader beloved around the world.

Black History Month, African America, Black History, Civil Rights, black history month books, black history month children’s books